BlueNalu, a cell-based seafood startup founded last year, has released a commercialization strategy and facility design schematics for large-scale production of foods using cellular agriculture. The San Diego-based company said in a release it was the first time any company has done so.
The strategy begins with R&D and small-scale pilot testing. Eventually, it will move to market research testing and 150,000 square feet of food production, BlueNalu said. The company is in the first phase of producing whole seafood medallions and fillets at pilot scale, but it anticipates producing up to 18 million pounds of finished seafood annually at each production facility.
BlueNalu said it plans to introduce products into a test market in two to three years and break ground on its first large-scale production facility in five years. Chris Dammann, the company's CTO, said in the release BlueNalu recently developed stable fish muscle cell lines of multiple species without using genetic engineering. "This is critical, since large-scale production of seafood products will require a reliable and consistent supply of real fish muscle cells," he said.
It's hard to know how realistic BlueNalu's plans are, but the company seems to be trying to add some weight to all the talk about cell-based protein products being available in the near term instead of the far-off future. Announcing plans to scale up, along with facility designs and a long-term timeline, could be a way to do that — and to raise more interest in the sector and potentially draw additional funding.
BlueNalu received $4.5 million in a seed round of investment a year ago. New Crop Capital led the round, with additional participation from 25 venture capital firms and individuals from the U.S., U.K., Hong Kong, Luxembourg and Israel, according to The Spoon. New Crop, based in Washington, D.C., is a private VC fund whose portfolio reads like a who's who of plant-based and cell-based companies. The list includes Beyond Meat, Good Catch, Memphis Meats and many others.
Production costs and the media to grow cells are two of the main obstacles to developing cell-based protein products, although costs are reportedly coming down.
The company appears to be on a faster track than some. Co-founder and CEO Lou Cooperhouse told Undercurrent News in June the company was only months away from producing whole-muscle, medallion-size pieces of yellowtail amberjack, along with cell-grown mahi mahi — and serving them to staff members.
Other cell-based seafood firms are racing to be first to market. Wild Type is working on cell-based salmon, while Finless Foods is developing a lab-grown bluefin tuna. Both companies raised $3.5 million apiece last year, The Spoon said. This spring, Singapore-based Shiok Meats raised $4.6 million to pursue its goal of cell-cultured shrimp. Globally, 27 cell-based companies are looking to tap into the segment, according to a study from The Good Food Institute.
Still others are taking the plant-based route. New Wave Foods makes a faux shrimp product from algae. Sophie's Kitchen's canned "toona" and faux smoked salmon, lobster and shrimp are made from pea starch and konjac. There is also Ocean Hugger Foods' raw tuna-like "Ahimi," which contains Roma tomatoes. Good Catch Foods produces fish-free tuna, crab-free cakes and plant-based sliders made from pea, soy, chickpea, lentil, fava and navy beans.
The Good Food Institute stresses sustainability in its support for commercializing cell-based seafood and other proteins. Demand is increasing worldwide, and overfishing and fish farming methods are harming ocean ecosystems, the group said. At its Sept. 4-6 conference in San Francisco, the group plans to focus on cell-based meat advancement, so the BlueNalu announcement is well-timed.
Jennifer Lamy, manager of the industry group's sustainable seafood initiative, said in a statement emailed to Food Dive that the company's announcement "demonstrates the progress BlueNalu must be making on the technical side." She said other cell-based companies are likely doing the same.
"It’s important to show investors and consumers that this is not a distant reality but a product that will be available in stores and restaurants in a matter of years," Lamy said. "This will provide assurance, continue the momentum, and showcase the incredible potential of these technologies."